Fairfield Drive shopping center will be transformed into a church, daycare, café
A mall at the busy intersection of Fairfield Drive and the North Davis Freeway in Pensacola looks run down with aging parking, empty windows that once displayed new furniture, and a faded billboard that has since left the complex.
But inside the 50,000-square-foot complex, a couple from Pensacola have painter’s tape along the floors and walls to visualize the future of the property which includes a large church, daycare, cafe. and community resources.
âWe’re not just trying to build a church, but to bless our city,â said Joe Driver, pastor of Echo Life Church. “We’re trying to make sure that people don’t just show up on Sunday, but can use our building all week.”
Driver and his wife, Echo Life Pastor Suzannah Driver, bought the resort in 2019 and have since spent time designing the transformation of the abandoned furniture store amid the pandemic.
Their young church has moved four times in as many years, starting at Bayview Senior Center and now serving in WSRE’s Jean & Paul Amos performance studio. The mall building is not yet ready to accommodate parishioners, but drivers expect a nine-month construction project to begin soon for opening in late 2022.
Joe Driver said the church team wanted to find a location that was centrally located and could contribute to the community, making a âhorrorâ mall an ideal choice.
“We’re here in the center of town, right off of exit four (off Interstate 110), on our city’s socio-economic divide.â¦ It’s really cool to be at this crossroads of everything.” , Driver said. âWe’re all on the same page that there is a need here and it’s great that we can all work together beyond even specters of faith or beliefs. We are all making the city better, which is what anyone can support. “
Beyond the church’s 30,000 square foot footprint, the additional 20,000 square feet on the site is already leased to 14 tenants. Suzannah Driver said the passive income from that monthly rent helps offset the cost of the design and fundraising events Echo Life has hosted in the empty building, such as food drives or food distribution events for babies and diapers.
She said the final church design includes a cafÃ© that will be open all week and a 200-capacity children’s development center, in addition to the church’s 600-seat main auditorium.
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âWe tried to think of as many facets as we could reach, from the single mom needing help with her kids to the businessman who just wanted a space to get out of the office and think, so we have tried to think of everything else., “she said.
Joe Driver said that once it is up and running, they will seek partnerships with community groups, schools and businesses to deliver offers such as life skills events and scholarships to low-income families for using the child development center, for example.
“If we could lower the barriers to make the church relevant, friendly and welcoming, to offer them hope, we thought we could at least help with that for the city,” said Driver Joe. “There are many bright minds and caring people in our city and we are honored to participate in this conversation.”
Emma Kennedy can be reached at [email protected] or 850-480-6979.